Wednesday, December 31, 2008

British police uninterested in car theft

But say anything critical about homosexuality and they will be there like a shot

When Keith Harding found his son's stolen car, he thought he had done all the hard work for the police. He phoned and told them it was parked outside a nearby block of flats, and waited for action. But to his astonishment officers said all they could do was send someone to pick up the car at a cost of 125 pounds. They said they did not have the resources to investigate the case.

Mr Harding, 51, a construction manager, said: `When they told me they couldn't do anything but charge me to tow the car away, I just couldn't believe it. `The officer apologised because he was embarrassed and I was furious. The culprits were probably inside that block of flats and they were going to get away with it.'

The case follows the Daily Mail's revelation earlier this week that officers are routinely failing to investigate crimes reported by the public. Nearly four in every ten offences are `screened out' by officers who claim they have little chance of catching the culprit.

The BMW was stolen on November 21 from the Harding family's home in Rayleigh, Essex, by thieves who broke into the house and took the keys and other items, including a purse belonging to Mr Harding's wife's. The purse was found by a member of the public only ten minutes' drive away, so Mr Harding decided to play detective. He drove around nearby roads until he spotted his son's car in a private car park for a block of flats. Mr Harding immediately called the police, who took an hour to arrive. The officer then called CID to see if a detective was available to investigate how the car ended up parked in the block of flats. But after another hour, CID rang back to say that `no resources' were available.

Mr Harding then drove the car home after a friend dropped off a spare key, rather than pay the 125 pound tow fee. Forensic tests were carried out on the car the next day. Mr Harding said: `We were still scared that the thieves would come back for the car because they had the keys and knew our address, so I had to park it at a friend's house. `I think the police are just worried about statistics and making sure they are seen rather than actually solving crimes.'

A spokesman for Essex Police said the officer's advice on retrieving Mr Harding's car was `usual' and forces across the country charge 125 for this service. He added: `Investigations continue, including the review of other intelligence available to police.'

Original report here. (Via PC Watch)

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Riverdale man sues Chicago over wrongful conviction after 2 years in prison

Girlfriend returned cell phone, he got life sentence for robbery. Michael Glasper, 39, of Riverdale filed a federal lawsuit alleging Chicago police framed him for robbery

A Riverdale man alleges in a federal lawsuit that his girlfriend's attempt to do a good deed by returning a cell phone found in an alley turned into a nightmare when police framed him for a robbery. Michael Glasper, 39, served 2 years of a life sentence before winning—on a motion he drafted himself in prison—a new trial that ended with his acquittal in July.

The lawsuit alleges that Chicago police targeted Glasper in the robbery of a South Loop parking lot cashier after learning he had two convictions for armed robbery in the 1990s. Police manipulated the robbery victim—the sole witness—to identify Glasper as the robber, the suit alleged.

A city Law Department spokeswoman said she had not seen the lawsuit, filed last week, and had no immediate comment.

Glasper came to the attention of police after his girlfriend, Jantae Spencer, returned a cell phone to the robbery victim. Glasper said the two had found the phone March 16, 2006, near Columbia College, where Spencer taught a creative writing class. The robbery took place at 155 W. Polk St., nearly half a mile west the same day they found the phone. Spencer scrolled through the phone's contacts, called its owner and then drove two days later to the Buena Park neighborhood on the city's North Side to return it.

Police wanted to know where she got the phone. Glasper said he encouraged Spencer in a phone call to cooperate. "I said, 'Go ahead, talk to them—you've got nothing to worry about," he said in an interview Wednesday. Within an hour or so, police arrested him at the couple's Riverdale home. "It went from me being curious to worried to actually scared," Spencer said.

Glasper was held without bail and then found guilty at a bench trial in September 2006. Spencer, struggling to pay her bills and his legal fees while staying in graduate school and raising a daughter, said she grew despondent. "I was so upset with the system . . . that there was no way I thought he was going to get out," she said. "I felt like the whole system did this to him, not just police."

The lawsuit does not specify how police allegedly manipulated the sole witness. But attorney Elizabeth Wang, who is representing Glasper, said the victim gave an initial description of the robber as someone 7 inches shorter than Glasper. The victim denied at trial making that statement, she said. Police also never searched the couple's home for a gun, Wang said, even though one was used in the robbery.

Moments after pulling up his sweater to show a scar from where he was stabbed in the back while in prison, Glasper said he never lost hope, drafting his appeal himself at the prison law library and eventually finding an attorney to argue it. "To be honest with you, I kind of was upset," Glasper said of his reaction to the guilty verdict, "but I couldn't give up."

Original report here

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Monday, December 29, 2008


NSW police goons shoot the victim and let the bad guy off

A woman who was shot by police in a unit block is seeking money and an apology from those she thought had been sent to protect her. Susie Bandera, 48, claims she was initially relieved when she saw officers had been called out to the North Parramatta address where a man was allegedly assaulting her in the early hours of December 21. "I believe he would have killed me," she said. "I was in the foetal position where he was eye-gouging me and ear-gouging me. Then I saw the police torches coming and I thought, 'Oh good, I'm safe.' "

Instead, the mother of two has a bullet wound to the chest and another police bullet lodged in her spine after it passed through her liver. Doctors have told Ms Bandera it might be too dangerous to remove the bullet. "My right leg is gone, I can't feel it," she said. "How [the bullet] missed my vital organs, I don't know."

Friends said Ms Bandera was "upset and angry" at police and would be seeking compensation and "probably an apology" from the officers involved.

Police alleged Ms Bandera threatened officers with a knife and refused to surrender the weapon after they arrived at the Iron Street units after neighbours reported a disturbance. When Ms Bandera lunged at police, they alleged, a junior female officer fired two shots. Ms Bandera claims she wasn't armed with a knife but a cocktail fork she had taken as protection as she walked an elderly, vision-impaired neighbour home after watching carols on television. On her way back, Ms Bandera had encountered a 23-year-old champion kick boxer arguing on a public phone. She said he demanded to know what she was looking at. He said he followed her to ask her why she had poked him with a fork.

Anne McCabe, 73, a resident who had just returned home from a Christmas party, said she heard a commotion on the drive leading to the units. She went out to her balcony and claims that she saw the man kicking Ms Bandera in the stomach and groin before Ms Bandera sought refuge in her foyer. "He was kicking the hell out of her," she said. "Neighbours were yelling at him to stop. He was choking, strangling her and I am standing over them yelling and yelling."

The kick boxer has denied he had assaulted Ms Bandera and has said in the media he was trying to subdue her and that he had her under control when police arrived and sprayed them both with capsicum spray.

"When I saw the police I ran towards them for help, to help me," Ms Bandera said. "And as I ran towards them she shot me, point blank." Ms Bandera said she first thought she had been hit by a stun gun but realised she had been shot when she saw the bullet casing next to her on the ground. "I thought he'd shot me. I didn't think it was the coppers," she said. Under observation in Westmead Hospital, Ms Bandera said she had been told her attacker had since gone to Queensland without charge, while she has been depicted as a "knife-wielding maniac" by police. "They didn't even get a DNA sample from him, they got one from me," she said.

A police spokesman said no comment would be made until the critical incident team finished its investigations into the shooting. But for Mrs McCabe, who said she was the prime witness and her unit the crime scene, the case was simple. In her view, when the police officer opened fire in her tiny foyer - with a bullet ricocheting into her unit to miss her by inches - she shot the wrong person. "A woman shouted out and I could hear her shouting out, 'You shot the bloody victim,"' she said. "And that's in my formal statement. The policewoman obviously shot in panic, she shot the wrong person."

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

NSW police thugs invent the law as they go along

BlackBerry seizure an 'abuse of police powers'

A MAN detained and threatened with arrest under the Terrorism Act for filming police on his mobile phone has alleged police abused their powers. Nick Holmes a Court, CEO of web-based media companies BuzzNumbers and ShiftedPixels, was walking to his home near Kings Cross in Sydney about 10pm on December 19. He told that police forcibly took his BlackBerry phone and threatened him with arrest both under the Australian Anti-Terrorism Act and for allegedly disobeying a police directive.

Mr Holmes a Court said he had started filming what looked like a search after he noticed a group of police walking down his street. "I went to one guy and asked what was going on but he told me to move along, and if I didn't they'd be able to arrest me," he said. "So I moved down the street a few hundred metres to where my apartment was, pulled out my phone and started filming."

Mr Holmes a Court said he had stopped filming before two of the police officers approached, demanding he surrender his BlackBerry mobile phone and telling him he had committed a crime if he had recorded them. "It was in my hand, and they were saying, 'Give me your phone, give me your phone,' but I just kept repeating, 'I do not consent to a search of my phone'," Mr Holmes a Court said. "It was pulled out of my hand - it wasn't me handing it over to her - and now I've got this girl looking through my phone and all my content - my contacts, photos, text messages and emails."

Mr Holmes a Court said he repeatedly complained to the police while they tampered with his phone, but was told to "shut up". "They forcefully did it in front of me, wouldn't give me my phone back until they deleted it, and just kept telling me to shut up."

Queensland Council for Civil Liberties president Michael Cope said police did not have the authority to confiscate cameras or stop people from taking pictures of them performing their duties. "It's not appropriate for the police to be stopping people taking pictures of them," Mr Cope said. "They've got no power to do that, none whatsoever, and they've got no power to confiscate cameras. "Why should they be fighting being scrutinised?"

In August this year NSW Civil Liberties Council president Cameron Murphy was responding to concerns about a similar incident where a student was arrested and pressured to delete footage of a brawl involving police when he said police could seize footage only if it was needed as part of an investigation. "There has been a steady increase in police powers to stop people, search them and move them along," Mr Murphy said. "This is very dangerous and it's the sort of thing that over time will lead to a police state."

Mr Holmes a Court went to Kings Cross police station on Boxing Day to make a complaint, but decided not to pursue it formally after a duty inspector said he would speak with the officers involved. "He said we were in fact allowed to film the police if you weren't hindering or in the way of an investigation," Mr Holmes a Court said. "He said my complaint would be logged as a verbal complaint, and he would get the media training department to come and make police aware that citizens and the media are allowed to film them."

NSW police media were aware of the incident involving Mr Holmes a Court, but would not comment because a formal complaint had not been made. News of the incident first broke when Mr Holmes a Court sent a message out on microblogging service Twitter just minutes after getting his phone back from police. "I got searched and my phone confiscated for filming a police search in kings cross, I was threatened with arrest and detainment. Police state," he said in his tweet.

Independent and mainstream media outlets began to pick up the story after freelance technology journalist Ben Grubb wrote a short article on his website and posted an audio interview with Mr Holmes a Court.

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

British babysitter spent three years in prison for a murder she did not commit

Three years ago Suzanne was jailed for a little boy's murder. But a damning investigation found that opinionated police had missed key evidence. Police still unrepentant, however

For Suzanne Holdsworth, the long, dark December nights were always the worst. But then, every minute she spent incarcerated in Low Newton prison, County Durham, was a living nightmare. As the monotonous weeks and months stretched on, she would often sit and wonder how her partner and two daughters were coping without her. But it was at night, in her sparse, cramped cell, that the 38-year-old mother would lie awake, weeping silent lonely tears and wondering if she would ever spend another Christmas and New Year with her family again.

'Everybody who's got children and who's in prison knows that every day is hell, but birthdays, Christmas Day and New Year's Eve are the worst days of your life,' she says. 'Everyone else is having a happy time with their families, but you are locked inside. 'You can't have visits on Christmas Day: you have phone calls, but only at certain times of the day. All that me and the other girls wanted to do was talk to our children all day. 'But there's nothing you can do but close the door behind you and cry and cry and cry.'

Were Suzanne a cold-blooded killer, or even a part-time petty criminal, it might be hard to feel any sympathy. But the fact is she was serving a life sentence for a crime she did not commit. In 2005, she was convicted of the murder of two-year-old Kyle Fisher, the son of a 19-year-old single mother who had left him in her charge. Suzanne has always denied harming the little boy in her care. She was jailed for life for Kyle's murder. In May this year, however, the Court of Appeal ruled that her conviction was unsafe after new medical evidence emerged suggesting the baby may have died from an epileptic seizure. A retrial was ordered, and at the new trial a jury unanimously found Suzanne not guilty.

Just eight days ago, on December 18, Suzanne was freed. She stood, hand-in-hand with her partner Lee Spencer, on the steps of Teesside Crown Court, enjoying her first taste of freedom in more than 1,000 days. She is now home, spending Christmas and New Year with Lee and daughters Lesley, 20, and Jamie-Leigh, 14, as well as her new grandson, Matthew. She falters as she speaks: 'Did I ever think this day would come? No. I thought I would be in prison forever.'

At the time of Kyle's death, police investigating accused Suzanne, from Seacroft, Leeds, of repeatedly smashing his head against a banister in a fit of rage. 'I never harmed him, I loved him,' she said, and certainly it left family and friends bewildered that the woman they called a modern-day Mary Poppins could have any connection to such horror. But Cleveland police were adamant: Suzanne Holdsworth, a former supermarket shelf-stacker, was a brazen liar and a baby killer.

Only something didn't quite add up. If there was a smashing of Kyle's head into a wooden banister, why was there no sign of impact? No blood, no hair, no traces of Kyle's skin anywhere in Suzanne's house. Why had no DNA test - which could have cleared Suzanne in the first instance - ever been carried out? Kyle also suffered from myriad problems. First, heterotopia - brain matter in the wrong place, which can cause fits; second, megalencephaly - an abnormally big brain, which can cause fits; third, hydrocephaly - water on the brain, which can also cause fits; fourth, subdural haemorrhage, which can also cause fits. Fifth, Kyle had been accidentally stabbed in the brain, in someone else's care, a year before he died - a terrible injury that caused his eye to droop as his damaged brain squeezed down 'like toothpaste through the tube'. It was pressing down through a hole in his eye socket onto the back of his eye. Stabbing, squeezing and scarring of the brain can cause fits, too. And fits can kill.

These five brain disorders, any one of which could trigger an epileptic fit, eluded Cleveland Police's 'relentless investigation'. So when Suzanne told the first trial jury in 2005 that Kyle had suffered from a fit, no one believed her. 'I remember the verdict coming,' says Suzanne, who even now is traumatised when talking about her ordeal. 'I remember seeing my partner Lee. Next minute, I was in a prison cell with just a bed and a CCTV camera looking at me. It was horrendous. Having no freedom, having people tell you what to do all the time. 'Missing my two children was the most terrible thing, and to begin with some of the other prisoners called me names: nonce, child killer. It didn't matter that I knew I'd done nothing wrong, no one can ever understand what that feeling is like - to be locked away in such a dreadful place and for murder no less, when you have done nothing wrong.'

Today, as they prepare to welcome in 2009, she and Lee, a lorry driver, want to put the past behind them. But they are angry and bitter at how such a grotesque miscarriage of justice could tear their family apart for over four years. I first reported on the possibility that Suzanne was in jail thanks to a grotesque miscarriage of justice a year ago for BBC2's Newsnight. Since 2001, I have helped free or clear the names of eight people who have been wrongly accused of child murder and manslaughter, starting with cot death mothers Sally Clark, who died of grief last year, Angela Cannings and Donna Anthony.

All eight stories are double tragedies: the death of a child compounded by the false conviction of an innocent parent or carer. In seven of the eight cases, police and the courts were misled by rogue experts such as Professor Sir Roy Meadow or disputed scientific theories such as 'shaken baby syndrome'.

I was approached about Suzanne's case by her lawyer, whom I had worked with on previous occasions and court cases. The minute he showed me all the evidence - NOT taken into account by police officers working on the original murder inquiry - it seemed obvious that this was one of the worst miscarriages of justice I had ever encountered. And it was also deeply troubling because it raises questions about the thoroughness of the original inquiry carried out by Cleveland Police.

It was led by Detective Superintendent Tony Hutchinson, who has since retired. Hutchinson was Cleveland's bullet-headed super-cop, leading dozens of murder inquiries, who shot to international fame when he nailed missing 'canoe man' John Darwin. Hutchinson maintained after Suzanne's first trial that she 'must have known very quickly that she had inflicted serious, if not fatal, injuries, and while she called for medical assistance' - the 999 call - 'she also began to manipulate the situation. She very calmly applied her mind as to how she would explain the injury to the authorities.'

Could she really be such a calculating killer, though? Naturally, Suzanne's own version of events - and the 999 call itself, which was broadcast last week for the first time - does not appear to suggest it. It was late evening on July 21, 2004, when Suzanne was babysitting Kyle because his mother Clare Fisher had gone out clubbing. Suzanne's daughters were with Lee, who was working abroad.

Suzanne explains the events of that terrible night: 'Clare came over with Kyle, then went out to a nightclub with a friend. Kyle had his yoghurt and juice and we sat together, watching the reality show Big Brother on TV. 'We were having a lovely evening and then I must have yawned, because Kyle said: "Suzie tired". Then, as he shuffled to get off the sofa, his head went down, in a sort of flopping motion. I moved the coffee table out of the way and his head fell to the floor. I put him down on the sofa and threw water on him, the shock of it should have woken him because he hated water. Nothing. I dialled 999.' The emergency call was played in court at Suzanne's trial. In it, clearly panicking, Suzanne describes Kyle as going 'all floppy, he's not breathing, his eyes are rolling and everything' - a classic description of an epileptic fit. Suzanne is screaming and sobbing so much the operator cannot understand what she is saying, hard to reconcile with Hutchinson's concept of a calm, manipulative mind at work.

Then there is the so-called murder weapon. Andrew Robertson QC, prosecuting, alleged at trial and retrial that Suzanne had smashed Kyle's head against a banister at her house. But nothing was visible on the banister - no dent, no blood, nothing. At the first trial, Judge Grigson said that the evidence presented by the Crown's forensic expert was of 'breathtaking banality'. At the second trial, the jury pointedly asked whether Kyle's DNA was on the banister. The answer? No tests had been carried out. Lee, Suzanne's partner, shakes his head in disbelief, still unable to fathom why the police didn't carry out tests on the banister. 'They didn't do a DNA test on the alleged weapon. I'm no Sherlock Holmes, but what kind of investigation was that?' he says. 'DNA profiling can distinguish between snot, tears, saliva, hair follicles, scalp. Technology can distinguish between all of them, but no DNA test was done.'

Then there is the question of Kyle's general well-being. Cleveland Police said that Kyle was an essentially healthy boy whom Suzanne had murdered. 'They told me again and again, "You did it, you did it",' says Suzanne. 'They were so wrong. Look at his drooping eye.' On March, 15, 2003 - more than a year before he died - Kyle was taken to hospital with an injury to that eye. On that very day, Lee had noticed Clare Fisher cradling her injured son outside her house in Troutpool Close, Hartlepool. She explained that he had fallen from his pram onto a spike from a fireguard. His eye socket was filling with blood. It was patched up, but months later when Kyle's eye began to droop, he was taken back to the James Cook hospital in Hartlepool, and in February 2004 he was seen by face surgeon Professor Brian Avery and brain surgeon Sid Marks. They carried out brain scans, found a hole in the eye socket through which the brain was squeezing 'like toothpaste through the tube' and planned to operate on him. This should have been crucial evidence in the investigation. But Cleveland Police never took statements from the two surgeons.

Suzanne is livid about what appears to be a gross lapse of normal police procedure: 'The drooping eye should have been investigated properly by the police,' she says. 'Kyle died of a head injury. The droopy eye was a head injury.'

What angered Suzanne and Lee most, though, was that her own defence team didn't call a single defence expert at her first trial. After Suzanne was convicted, Lee - who never doubted her innocence - found a new defence solicitor, Campbell Malone. He helped free wrongly convicted Stefan Kiszko, who spent 16 years in prison for the murder of schoolgirl Lesley Molseed. Malone contacted me and we set about gathering the evidence that would help clear Suzanne's name. Malone found three experts on human brain disorders.

Dr Waney Squier, a neuropathologist at Oxford University, was the first to identify that Kyle was in danger of suffering fits from his brain abnormalities and his injury, and the conviction against Suzanne could be a miscarriage of justice. Last December, while Suzanne was still in prison, Dr Squier told BBC's Newsnight programme that Kyle had 'abnormalities in his brain that would predispose him to having seizures. And seizures can kill.' In her view it was 'extremely unlikely' Suzanne had killed Kyle.

After the second trial, expert for the defence Bill Dobyns, professor of neurology, paediatrics and genetics at Chicago University, told me: 'It's almost embarrassing the number of medical factors they (the police and prosecution) first completely missed, and when I and other defence witnesses pointed out, they then ignored.'

On top of this, there is also the ordinary evidence of Suzanne's character. Trusted by friends and family as a babysitter, Suzanne was said to be 'very good with children'. Even Kyle's father - who had long since split with Kyle's mother - believed her to be innocent.

But the same could not be said for the character of Kyle's own mother. One woman juror at the second trial was seen holding her hand in front of her mouth in horror as the court watched a video of Clare Fisher's house: clothes strewn about, objects were lying around, and Kyle's bedroom looked like a junkyard, with a broken cot on the floor. Judge Grigson at the first trial told the jury that the house had been described as a 's***-pit'. Clare even admitted at the second trial that she had been a negligent, 'home-alone' mother.

Four nights before he died, she had locked Kyle in a bedroom by blocking the door with a broom handle and tying it with a belt, before going out clubbing. A neighbour heard Kyle crying and called the police. Suzanne only realised what had happened afterwards, but says Clare asked her to cover up and say she had been with Kyle that night to stop Clare getting into trouble. Suzanne agreed to help her friend and neighbour. 'I was wrong to cover up for Clare,' says Suzanne. 'I told a white lie - but the prosecution made it much darker. I ended up paying for it for three years inside.'

Another issue at both trials was unexplained bruising on Kyle's head. Both babysitter and mother deny causing the bruising. Another expert, Professor Renzo Guerrini from the University of Florence, gave evidence that it could have been caused by Kyle himself, banging his own head in an unseen fit. And if the bruising had been caused by one of the two women, then which one?

As Suzanne adjusts to life back with her family, Cleveland Police have announced they will not be apologising for what they describe as a 'thorough, diligent and professional investigation'. Chief Constable Sean Price says: 'I can't criticise my officers for doing their job. The reason we have jury trials is so they can decide when they have heard all the facts. 'I don't really have any intention of speaking to Suzanne Holdsworth, and she probably just wants to be allowed to get on with things now.'

Suzanne and Lee are naturally disappointed, but not surprised, at the police's reaction. 'I spent three years in prison for a murder that didn't happen so the chief constable is wrong,' says Suzanne. 'I'll never forget Kyle. I loved him very much, but it is utterly wrong that I have had to suffer, too, for something I haven't done. Yes, I'm thankful to be free, but an apology is something I would like very much.'

Original report here

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Texas police thugs

Did police mistake a black girl, 12, for a white prostitute?

A Galveston couple has filed a federal lawsuit against three police officers who they say arrested and beat their 12-year-old daughter after mistaking her for a prostitute, according to newspaper report. Wilfred and Emily Milburn, the parents of Dymond Larae Milburn, are asking for unspecified damages for physical injuries and emotional problems, which they say have included nightmares. Sgt. Gilbert Gomez and Officers David Roark and Sean Stewart have filed documents saying their conduct was reasonable in light of the facts they had at the time, the Houston Chronicle reported Tuesday in its online story.

According to a lawsuit filed in federal court in Galveston, Dymond Larae Milburn went outside her home to flip a circuit breaker at about 7:45 p.m. on Aug. 22, 2006. Responding to a call that three white prostitutes were soliciting in the neighborhood, the plainclothes officers jumped out of an unmarked van on Gomez's orders and one of them grabbed the girl, who is black, the lawsuit states.

The girl contends that the officers did not identify themselves as police and that the officer who grabbed her, later identified as Roark, told her, "You're a prostitute. You're coming with me." Her parents heard her cries for help and came outside to see the hysterical girl hanging on to a tree and screaming "Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!" while two officers hit her about the head, face and throat, the family alleges. Two hours later, she was examined at the University of Texas Medical Branch emergency room and doctors found she had a sprained wrist, two black eyes, a bloody nose and blood in an ear, according to the lawsuit.

Weeks later, she was arrested during classes at Austin Middle School, where she was an honors student, the lawsuit states. She was tried a year later on a charge of resisting arrest, but the judge declared a mistrial on the first day, according to the lawsuit. The reason for the mistrial was not immediately available Tuesday. The case could go to trial in late 2009 or 2010.

Original report here

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Yet more police misbehavior from Australia

Innocent old lady assaulted and injured by police scum on mere suspicion. Previous post here on Dec. 9, 2007

A 64-year-old grandmother who was arrested and strip searched for drugs on a busy Sydney street in a police case of mistaken identity is suing the state for false imprisonment and wrongful arrest. Leentje McDonald was somehow mistaken by police for an alleged drug dealer 24 years her junior and shaken down outside a Maroubra pub in full public view. A statement of claim filed in the District Court alleges officers took her belt off and put their hands underneath her clothes in the middle of the footpath in broad daylight.

When she screamed and tried to stop them they pulled both of her hands behind her back and pushed her to the ground. They then arrested her and charged her with assaulting an officer. Yet apparently Mrs McDonald's biggest crime was to miss her bus and duck into the Maroubra Junction Hotel to play the pokies while she waited for another one. The publican had previously told police that he believed that drugs were being sold by an Asian looking woman on the premises.

When Mrs McDonald got up to leave she was seized by an undercover officer and - despite her explaining they had the wrong woman. She was then searched by a female officer who arrived shortly afterwards and restrained by both of them.

Despite the incident occurring more than a year ago she says she has still not received any apology from the police. "I just want an apology and some recognition that I am suffering to this day," she told The Daily Telegraph. "I am in a lot of pain. I had a frozen shoulder which the police really hurt when they treated me so roughly.

A spokesperson said NSW Police was unable to comment as the matter was before the courts. Ms McDonald's lawyer George Newhouse said his client had offered to resolve the matter amicably but police had refused.


Traffic accidents encouraged

A woman who lives close to one of South Australia's most notorious road accident black spots is fuming after being told to speed up - by police. Sharon Green - who says she has helped more than 20 crash victims outside her home on Victor Harbor Rd, Mt Compass - was pulled over by police for doing 90km/h in a 100km/h zone as she prepared to turn into her driveway.

Ms Green says she was branded a "danger and a menace" to other drivers when she was pulled over by an unmarked police car at 12.45am recently after driving home from Victor Harbor. "He said I was a danger and a menace on the road if I have been driving at that speed from Victor Harbor - I didn't know what he was on about," she said.

"We live on the main road and we have scraped about 20 people up off the highway where our house is because it is a terrible part of the road. We are so conscious of the way we drive so carefully when we see the consequences so often in Victor Harbor Road from speeding and drink driving. "I would understand if I was travelling at 60 or 70, but not 90. Nobody here can understand, when they see idiots every day speeding on this road, they are telling people to go faster." Ms Green said the warning and order to drive faster was contrary to the police Christmas safety message.

A police spokeswoman refused to comment on Ms Green's case but said driving too slowly could cause problems on the road. "In general, driving too slowly can be a hazard. It is not an offence in itself, but the manner of driving can cause a hazard, and be dangerous, which can lead to an offence," the spokeswoman said.

Ms Green said she had slowed from 100km/h with "not a soul on the road in any direction" because kangaroos were a known hazard at that time. Ms Green has been living at the same property for 48 years, 11kms south of Mt Compass in an area known as "Cut Hill" or Mt Jagged. "They sped off without even saying sorry after I explained I lived here and had only slowed down to get into the driveway," she said.

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Misbehaving Australian police get slaps on the wrist

Senior police are feeling the heat from the Crime and Misconduct Commission over their allegedly light-handed treatment of rogue officers. On eight occasions in the past year, the CMC has taken action in the Misconduct Tribunal against commissioned officers over their findings in disciplinary matters.

In one case, the CMC appealed against a finding by Assistant Commissioner Peter Swindells that excess force allegations brought against a junior officer could not be proved. Constable Patrick Gardiner was accused of slapping, kicking and punching offenders at the Brisbane City Beat Office and the City Botanical Gardens on 14 occasions in 2004. One charge alleged the constable removed the handcuffs from a man in custody and enticed him into a fight. But Mr Swindells found all but one of the allegations were unsubstantiated and did not impose any sanctions on the officer.

The CMC claimed Mr Swindells was wrong to require proof of the charges "to the criminal standard". It also said his decision not to sanction Constable Gardiner was inadequate and failed to "properly reflect the need for deterrence". The case is ongoing.

In another matter, the Misconduct Tribunal upheld part of an appeal by the CMC against Assistant Commissioner George Nolan, in relation to an officer who allegedly failed to abandon a car chase as directed. The CMC took action when Mr Nolan found the charges against Sen-Constable Dennis Martyn should be downgraded from misconduct to breaches of discipline and found claims he lied in interviews with senior police were unsubstantiated.

Three other matters brought by the CMC were abandoned and two more appeals are continuing.

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Australian tax office finally backs down after huge prosecution effort based on mere suspicion

$300 million of taxpayer money wasted, for what? They never stood to recoup a fraction of that anyway. The bunglers thought they were Eliot Ness but ended up being revealed as Keystone Kops. But no heads will roll. You can rely on that.

The nation's largest tax fraud inquiry has been dealt a major blow with the repayment by the Australian Taxation Office of about $1 million to one of its main targets - celebrity lawyer Michael Brereton. The backdown comes after authorities spent six years and millions of dollars investigating Mr Brereton, whose clients have included Kylie Minogue, Men At Work and Mushroom Records. Mr Brereton's offshore dealings sparked the $300 million Wickenby investigation into tax fraud, which has so far claimed onlyone high-profile scalp, that of music entrepreneur Glenn Wheatley.

The settlement between the tax office and Mr Brereton, pictured yesterday with the ATO repayment cheque, relates to arrangements the tax office once believed were part of a massive tax fraud involving millions of dollars being sent offshore. Mr Brereton, once accused of tax fraud, remains under investigation by the Australian Crime Commission. However, despite receiving the large refund cheque yesterday from the authorities, he is planning to sue the "oppressive" tax office and the "venomous" ACC over their actions.

In an exclusive interview with The Australian, Mr Brereton revealed that he had moved overseas after being pursued by "overzealous" investigators, who he believed made fundamental mistakes early in the inquiry. "They probably thought I was acting for Philip Egglishaw just because I knew him," Mr Brereton said. Mr Egglishaw is the Swiss accountant who came to attention following a raid on his Melbourne hotel room in February 2004. His firm, Strachans, organised offshore structures for hundreds of Australian clients. The raid was conducted in an attempt to find documents relating to Mr Brereton, but it unexpectedly resulted in a treasure trove of documents found on a laptop computer. Names of Strachans clients such as Wheatley, actor Paul Hogan and his artistic collaborator John Cornell, and of other lawyers, entertainers and high-profile business people and files relating to their business dealings, were on the laptop. Hundreds of Australians - many from the top end of town - were said to have used Strachans to send money offshore to avoid paying tax in Australia, sparking the Wickenby investigation.

A record $300 million in additional funding was given to the tax office, the ACC, the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission to work together to combat tax fraud and money laundering. But despite the promises so far, the only Strachans client of any note to be charged and jailed is Wheatley, who pleaded guilty last year to tax-related offences.

"I think I was a terribly small fish," Mr Brereton said. "They went around saying I was low-hanging fruit. If I was low-hanging fruit it can't be a very good crop." Mr Brereton has long fought against the authorities who targeted him, and controversial retrospective legislation was even rushed through parliament after he won a crucial court victory against the crime commission. Those amendments to the Crime Commission Act have subsequently been the subject of a Senate inquiry, which has recommended they be repealed. A spokesman for Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus said the Government was still considering the matter and consulting with state agencies, and hoped to have a response early next year.

Mr Brereton has never been charged with any criminal offence, although a crime commission officer recently told the Federal Court during a separate matter that its pre-Wickenby investigation, which relates to Mr Brereton, continues.

The crime commission told The Australian yesterday that it was still pursuing nine people, or groups of people, as part of Wickenby. Mr Brereton has, however, been the subject of three tax office revised assessments. Two have been resolved and one is still being negotiated. "They just knocked out everything I claimed," he said.

Yesterday, Mr Brereton received a cheque for the disputed amount for two of those years, plus interest. "They have now agreed to refund the money plus interest on the judgment, and over time I intend to sue them on other things," he said.

One of the disputes with the tax office related to the musical theatre production Jolson, which Mr Brereton produced. An offshore company, Westminster Finance, provided the finance but Westminster, set up by Strachans, was alleged to have been a front for Mr Brereton. "I am not Westminster," he told The Australian.

Although Mr Brereton's life once consisted of a brilliant legal career, glittering opening nights with celebrity friends such as Hugh Jackman, and sitting on the boards of various charities, the Wickenby investigation has put an end to that. Mr Brereton is hopeful this week's tax office settlement is the end of Wickenby for him. "We have settled with them (the tax office) and the objection was ruled in my favour," he said.

As for criminal charges, Mr Brereton maintains he has done nothing wrong. "You would think if they had something, they would have done something about it," he said. "In reality, I think it's dead. If it's not dead it should be ... I will make it dead in a legal way."

He also pointed out that none of his celebrity clientele was ever charged. "Not one of my clients has been prosecuted in any way as a result of Wickenby, even though they have had the opportunity to go through each and every one of my clients," Mr Brereton said.

Although he has had a victory against the tax office, he is still fighting authorities on other fronts. ASIC recently disqualified him for three years from being a company director. He is appealing that decision in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. "I would be surprised if we don't do well out of that," he said.

Mr Brereton is also appealing the finding that he misappropriated money from his trust fund account. Again, he is confident of a result in his favour. But despite the fighting attitude - and yesterday's cheque - Mr Brereton says the past five years of his life have been destroyed by the Wickenby investigation. "If they wanted to achieve something they have done it; the operation was successful but the patient almost died," he said. "The career of Michael Brereton as it was is no more and can never be. That's a fact and I would be kidding myself if I didn't see that."

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

British police ignore 4 in 10 crimes: Nearly 2m offences shelved because they're 'too hard to crack'

Police are failing to investigate almost four in every ten crimes, it was revealed last night. The offences include sex attacks, violent robberies, harassment, burglary and drug incidents. Instead of being pursued, the cases are simply filed away by officers who do not consider they can be solved.

Victims' groups have condemned this practice of 'screening out' offences - but it is alarmingly widespread. The Met, the country's largest force, decided that 51 per cent of crimes were not worth full investigations as there was little chance of catching the culprit. Across the country, the average for the 16 forces which gave full replies to the Daily Mail's Freedom of Information requests was 39 per cent. It is the equivalent of a staggering 1.9million of the five million crimes reported to the police by distressed members of the public not being fully investigated. And it goes a long way to explain why the detection rates for all crimes, and burglary in particular, are so low. On average, only 27 per cent of crimes are solved.

A spokesman for Victim Support said: 'Even if this process is justified by lack of evidence, the figures are likely to undermine confidence in the police among victims. 'If victims feel that their experience of crime is being dismissed by the very agencies that are meant to deal with the situation, that risks adding insult to injury.'

The Tories said the target-obsessed Government had forced the police to chase 'diktats' rather than criminals. Police forces have adopted the tactic of screening out crimes in response to Government targets insisting they must bring a fixed number of offenders 'to justice' each year. It has led to officers targeting resources almost exclusively on cases with the best chance of success. Many of the most common offences are routinely filed 'not for action' by telephone operators at the first possible stage, after the first initial call reporting the crime.

By recording it as a crime, the officer is acknowledging the law has been broken. The main reasons the investigation is dropped are if there are no obvious leads, such as the name of the suspected offender. Police chiefs defend the system as a way to target resources on the most serious and solvable crimes. They insist that all crimes are 'investigated' to some degree, even if this amounts to no more than a telephone conversation. Serious crimes such as murder, wounding or rape are always investigated, as are crimes where there is a named suspect or obvious forensic evidence.

But opponents say it is a far cry from the days when almost every victim of crime received a visit from an officer, and an attempt was at least made to find the culprit. The Tories said it was a symptom of a lack of public accountability within the police service. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith abandoned plans for elected police representatives earlier this week. Shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve said: 'This is a consequence of Labour's target culture which has resulted in our police being forced to chase Whitehall diktats instead of criminals. 'Conservatives would replace police authorities with elected police commissioners so that the priorities of the police reflect the priorities of the people they serve.'

In London, the Met said that in the 2007/8 financial year it screened out a total of 437,888 offences. These included 26,709 offences of violence, 338 sex attacks, 5,562 robberies and more than 60,000 burglaries. For burglary, the Met only investigate one in three cases reported to them. In Bedfordshire, which last year screened out 42 per cent of crimes, one in three burglaries doesn't get a full investigation. Although the percentage of screened out crime falls for more serious offences the force still excluded 290 offences of violence, 12 sex attacks, 32 robberies and 16 drugs offences.

In Norfolk, where 113 sex attacks were amongst the 42 per cent of crime screened out, the deputy chief constable Ian Learmonth said: 'We are making best use of our resources by investigating only those crimes which have some hope or opportunity of being solved.' A spokesman for Bedfordshire Police said: 'Before any crime is "screened out" it will have been through a rigorous evaluation procedure.'

A Home Office spokesman said the Government had reduced centrally-set targets and planned to cut red tape to free up officers.

Original report here

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Federal court restricts gag orders

National security letters have been a stain upon the U.S. criminal justice system for several years now, permitting, as they do, federal investigators to go on a fishing expedition through private records -- and then forbidding the recipients of the letters to publicly complain about the treatment they've received. Now, after a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the use of the letters will finally be subject to some judicial oversight. Some oversight, implying a bit of restraint. In a 2007 report (PDF) revealing widespread abuses of National Security Letters, the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General described the documents:
Four federal statutes contain five specific provisions authorizing the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to issue national security letters (NSLs) to obtain information from third parties, such as telephone companies, financial institutions, Internet service providers, and consumer credit agencies. In these letters, the FBI can direct third parties to to provide customer account information and transactional records, such as telephone toll billing records.

Before the Patriot Act, NSLs could be used only to gain information "involving a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power." The Patriot Act allowed the use of NSLs in pretty much any case where the words "espionage" or "international terrorism" were invoked. By 2005, 53% of NSLs involved Americans rather than foreigners. And invoked they have been.

The Inspector General's report points out that the use of these letters soared from 8,500 in 2000 (before the Patriot Act) to 39,000 in 2003, 56,000 in 2004, and 47,000 in 2005. Each letter may contain more than one request for information, so even those figures understate the matter. And the FBI apparently engaged in poor recordkeeping. The report dug through the files and found 17% more NSLs than had been officially recorded.

This is all important because NSLs allow federal agents to engage into far-reaching probes through sensitive private information, on the say-so of federal law enforcement officers, without judicial review. And if you're an ISP or a phone company and don't like being on the receiving end of an NSL, tough luck. You can't complain in public about the letter, inform the ultimate subject of the investigation or do much at all but fume -- in private -- about the situation. The gag order, like the NSL, is on the say-so of the agents conducting the investigation. In the words of Title 18, Section 2709(c):
... no wire or electronic communications service provider, or officer, employee, or agent thereof, shall disclose to any person (other than those to whom such disclosure is necessary to comply with the request or an attorney to obtain legal advice or legal assistance with respect to the request) that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has sought or obtained access to information or records under this section.

Until now. Last year, a federal district court judge found the gag order provisions of the national security letters to be offensive to the First Amendment and to separation-of-powers language in the Constitution. That decision was appealed. The Second District U.S. Court of Appeals agreed to a large extent (PDF), although it was much more deferential to the government's "national security" mantra than was the lower court. The appeals court noted that the gag order served as a constitutionally suspect "prior restraint" on speech, even if it's one that operates in a specific area of speech.
The nondisclosure requirement of subsection 2709(c) is not a typical prior restraint or a typical content-based restriction warranting the most rigorous First Amendment scrutiny. On the other hand, the Government's analogies to nondisclosure prohibitions in other contexts do not persuade us to use a significantly diminished standard of review. In any event, John Doe, Inc., has been restrained from publicly expressing a category of information, albeit a narrow one, and that information is relevant to intended criticism of a governmental activity.

The court also dismissed the government's argument that judges should simply accept FBI officials' assurances that national security would be at stake if NSL recipients were allowed to air their complaints in public, saying that such a role would reduce judges to "petty functionaries."

Ultimately, the court let the NSL gag orders stand, but required that the FBI initiate judicial review of each order to determine if it's justifiable and to give the recipient an opportunity to contest the order in court. This is a much less sweeping decision than the one reached in the lower court, but it's a real challenge to the "just trust us" security state philosophy that has prevailed through the Bush years.

After all these years and tens of thousands of national security letters, it's about time that somebody got a chance to take a look at what the investigators have been doing under cover of legally imposed silence.

Original report here

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

White collar injustice

The long-running KPMG tax-shelter case ends with a whimper

What started as the "largest criminal tax-fraud case in history" ended this week with a whimper -- one acquittal and three partial convictions for four defendants in the long-running KPMG tax-shelter case. The Justice Department had charged 19 people back in 2005. Two pleaded guilty, while 13 had their charges dismissed after federal Judge Lewis Kaplan found the government had violated their Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights by coercing KPMG into denying them legal assistance, among other offenses.

The remaining four stood trial this fall. David Greenberg, who was jailed for five months after the government argued he was a flight risk if permitted to post bail, was acquitted on all counts. The other three were convicted on some tax evasion charges while acquitted on others. No one was convicted on the original, underlying conspiracy charge.

Justice may consider this as a partial vindication, and it is certainly a setback for the three defendants who now face possible jail time on the tax evasion charges. But the fact that the government could not prove its case for a criminal conspiracy calls into question the premise of the entire prosecution. We argued from the beginning that prosecuting tax advisers for selling tax shelters that had never been found illegal in a court of law had an Alice-in-Wonderland quality. This aggressive legal theory produced, in turn, the government misconduct that ultimately led to the dismissals. Now a jury has found that the conspiracy alleged by the government never existed.

Without a conspiracy, even the convictions the government did secure look dubious and could be overturned on appeal. Whether those convictions stand up or not, there are at least 14 innocent people whose lives were turned upside down and careers ruined by overreaching prosecutors. No moral victory can give back what was taken from them by this regrettable, and abusive, episode.

Original report here

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Australian police duo stood down over hands-on pictures

No problems if they were doing this in their own time -- but they weren't

Two Northern Territory police officers caught in compromising positions with scantily-clad women while they were meant to be on duty patrolling the streets have been stood down from operational duties. These photographs obtained by the Northern Territory News show the officers posing with young ladies at the annual Hookers and Deviates Ball at Discovery nightclub in Darwin this month. One of the armed and uniformed officers is even shown with his hand placed on a woman's buttocks as she bent over in front of him. Another picture shows the same officer receiving a sultry kiss on the cheek from the same girl. And another cop is pictured with a big smile on his face as a woman dressed in black lingerie with bunny ears and a fluffy tail seductively rubs against his crotch.

Both cops were questioned over the racy images yesterday after the NT News brought the photos to NT Police attention and asked them to explain. Deputy Commissioner Bruce Wernham confirmed that the officers in the photos were on duty at the time and were meant to be doing a licensed premises patrol as part of City Safe - an NT Police operation that has been running since last December in Darwin city that targets crime and drunken antisocial behaviour. The operation includes patrols inside licensed premises as well as on on the streets.

Mr Wernham said in a statement last night that the behaviour was "extremely disappointing". "The Northern Territory Police force values its reputation and image above all else and any incident with the potential to detract from the good work of the organisation overall is extremely disappointing," he said. "On our receipt of the photographs an internal investigation was commenced immediately by the Ethical and Professional Standards Command and the two officers concerned were interviewed (yesterday) afternoon." "Further interviews need to be conducted and at the conclusion of the investigation all evidence will be assessed."

He said in the meantime the members concerned had been stood aside from "duties of this type".

Original report here

Crooked Australian cop walks free

A POLICEMAN who changed the statement of a sex assault victim to prevent her case going ahead has been handed a suspended sentence. Former Sen-Constable Bradley Michael Gleeson, 35, altered the statement, invented others and forged signatures on five cases he handled while working at Northcote and Moonee Ponds between 2005 and 2007. The County Court heard Gleeson was overworked and stressed when he selected the "problematic'' cases and put falsified statements of no complaint on the files.

This afternoon Judge Susan Pullen sentenced Gleeson to nine months jail, wholly suspended. She said it was clear Gleeson was more concerned about his own workload and reputation than he was about those who were making complaints. She said he had committed a gross breach of trust. "Your job was never to be that of judge and jury,'' Judge Pullen told him.

Prosecutor Daryl Brown told the court that the cases were for offences including indecent assault, criminal damage and theft. The court heard in the most serious case, a woman made accusations of sexual assault against a man in late 2003. Mr Brown said when Gleeson was handed the file he changed her statement to delete four allegations of improper behaviour and then forged the woman's signature. Gleeson then forged her signature again on a note claiming that she no longer wanted to pursue the case.

Mr Brown said nothing happened with the case for a year until another victim came forward and the file was reopened, uncovering Gleeson's crimes. Gleeson, of Abbotsford, pleaded guilty to five counts of misconduct in public office. Defence lawyer Peter Matthews said his client had been a respected and hard working officer who made a "horribly misguided effort'' to save time. Mr Matthews said following an assault in 2003 and a Christmas Day road fatality in 2004 Gleeson developed post traumatic stress disorder. "We are dealing with a man who appears to have two very different sides to him,'' he said. "Outwardly to his work colleagues at the time ... he appeared a capable officer. "The inward story is a very different one. This was a man who was emotionally and psychologically troubled.''

Gleeson was suspended from the force in August last year and resigned in October.

Original report here (Via Australian Politics)

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Britain gets the right man at last

This is the ultimate vindication for Colin Stagg and the ultimate disgrace for the know-all British cops involved in his conviction

A convicted killer and sex attacker was brought to justice on Thursday 16 years after the brutal murder of a British woman in front of her two-year-old son. Robert Napper, 42, pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey court in London to killing Rachel Nickell, a former model who was sexually assaulted and stabbed 49 times in a London park in 1992. Judge John Griffiths Williams said he would accept the plea of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility from Napper, a paranoid schizophrenic who is already being held in a high-security hospital after subsequent attacks. Telling him he would be kept in the Broadmoor hospital indefinitely, the judge said: "You are on any view a very dangerous man."

The end of the probe raised fresh questions over the original investigation into the murder and the missed opportunities to catch Napper, who went on to kill another young mother and her daughter. Napper was questioned about the Nickell killing in December 1995 but denied involvement. He had been sent to Broadmoor two months earlier for killing Samantha Bissett, 27, and her four-year-old daughter Jazmine in a savage attack in south London in November 1993.

A tiny particle of Napper's DNA was picked up from Nickell's body soon after her death, but it was too small to be analysed until recent scientific advances made it possible. A match was finally confirmed in 2004 but he was not charged with murder until December last year.

Police had become convinced that a loner, Colin Stagg, who lived near the crime scene at Wimbledon Common was the killer. But Stagg was freed by an Old Bailey judge in September 1994, who criticised police for using a "honey-trap" undercover policewoman to try to make him confess. Stagg, 45, spent 13 months in custody and endured more than a decade of speculation that he was the killer. This year, he was awarded 706,000 pounds ($1.5 million) in compensation from the government and London's Metropolitan Police made a full apology to him for the first time on Thursday.

Original report here

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Texas death row inmate's conviction overturned

Withheld evidence again

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday overturned a death row inmate's conviction in the 1985 bombing deaths of three family members on Thanksgiving. The state's highest criminal court upheld a lower court's October ruling that the lead prosecutor withheld evidence during Michael Roy Toney's 1999 trial. The Tarrant County District Attorney's Office had not disputed that assertion. Chuck Mallin, chief of the office's appellate division, said Wednesday that District Attorney Tim Curry will decide in a few days whether to try Toney again after prosecutors review the case evidence. But Mallin said they still believe Toney committed the crime. He said Toney would return to jail in Fort Worth and that bond would be set but did not know the amount.

One of Toney's attorneys, Rebecca Bauer Kahan of San Francisco, said it was "a very exciting day." "We believe justice prevailed today and will continue to prevail," she said Wednesday, adding that she does not believe he should be tried again. "I don't think any credible evidence remains against Mr. Toney."

On Thanksgiving night 1985, 15-year-old Angela Blount found a suitcase on the porch, took it inside and opened it. A bomb exploded and killed her; her father Joe Blount, 44; and her cousin Michael Columbus, 18. Her 14-year-old brother and mother were also in the Lake Worth trailer but survived. The case remained unsolved until 1997, when Toney was arrested while jailed on an unrelated charge after telling an inmate he committed the bombing. But Toney later testified that it was a scam to get the inmate released, and he played along because he thought the bombing happened when he was behind bars for another offense, according to court records. He had testified he learned about the bombing previously from another inmate who had lived with Angela Blount's former boyfriend, who had been a suspect before authorities cleared him, court records show.

Although Toney denied any involvement in the bombing, his ex-wife and business partner gave detailed accounts in testifying that he was the bomber. But in appealing the conviction, Toney's attorneys argued that the lead prosecutor withheld more than a dozen pieces of evidence, including inconsistent statements by those witnesses.

Original report here

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

My prison ordeal: By British cop wrongly jailed for 'attack' on violent drunken schoolboy

A policeman jailed for punching a drunken yob has spoken of his ordeal after he was freed on appeal. PC Daniel Gaffney had been found guilty of punching the 12-year-old boy in the face, breaking his nose - and was sentenced to 12 weeks in prison. The father- of-two spent three nights in jail before being released on bail pending an appeal.

His conviction was quashed after the schoolboy, who has several convictions for assault, admitted he had been about to attack the officer when he was punched. It was eventually ruled that PC Gaffney, 30, had acted in self-defence. 'It was a split-second decision in a difficult situation - he was drunk and in a violent state of mind,' he said from his home in Northwich, Cheshire. 'I acted in self defence, but I wish it had not happened. 'I have worked as a response officer since I started in the police seven-and-a-half years ago and I have been assaulted in the course of doing my job before. It's not always big blokes who attack you.'

PC Gaffney said his short time in prison in Liverpool was particularly difficult. 'Although I didn't speak to anybody, they knew who I was, so you can imagine the things they were shouting,' he said. 'It felt as though it was all happening to somebody else. I was just in shock. On one of the days my wife brought my son to visit, but they said they had to do a risk assessment first so I was unable to see him, which was hard.'

PC Gaffney's ordeal goes back to November last year when police were called to a children's home in Manchester. They arrested a boy and girl who had apparently drunk vodka on the premises and threatened staff with a fence post. The boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was taken to the Elizabeth Slinger Road police station in West Didsbury, Manchester, and allocated a cell. But he became violent while being searched - which is when PC Gaffney punched him on the nose.

Moments after the alleged assault, a sergeant saw PC Gaffney telling the boy to sit up as he had blood pouring down his face. He had initially claimed the boy tripped and hit his face on the wall of the cell, a court heard. But a worker at the care home made a complaint the next day and PC Gaffney later confessed to punching the boy as he feared he was about to be assaulted.

A district judge found the officer guilty of assault after a two-day trial at Halton Magistrates' Court in August. He was cleared on appeal. PC Gaffney, who joined Greater Manchester Police in 2001, was given a formal warning for giving a false account of what had happened. But he will return to work in the New Year. 'I am looking forward to getting my career back on track again. I always wanted to be a policeman,' he said. Assistant Chief Constable Terry Sweeney said: 'We are looking forward now to welcoming Daniel back to a job he loves and does well.'

Original report here

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cops still don't dig cameras

The American Civil Liberties Union often advises people to record encounters with the police in order to discourage abusive behavior, or to capture evidence of such behavior when it does occur. The ACLU has even distributed video cameras to the public for free in areas where allegations of police misconduct are especially egregious. Residents of high-crime areas in St. Louis were among the recipients of such high-tech largesse. But if you take the ACLU's advice, you may find yourself put in handcuffs by cops who don't want their actions recorded for posterity. Cooper Travis can tell you all about that. He was arrested outside his own home for openly recording an encounter with a police officer.

Travis is a Candia, New Hampshire resident who was at home on November 4 when Steven Sprowl, an inspector from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals showed up at the property, demanding access to see if there is shelter for horses kept on the premises. New Hampshire is among the states that delegate certain police powers to private organizations, such as the SPCA, including the power to enter property and make arrests. Travis denied entry at the instruction of the property owner, who wanted to be present for any search. Sprowl then contacted Candia police.

Once an officer arrived, Cooper Travis and caretaker Beth Garthwaite began recording the interaction, with the officer's consent. The resulting video clearly shows a polite, if pointed discussion, with Travis and Garthwaite remaining on their side of the property fence. After a few minutes, the police officer, clearly hot under the collar, ordered the camera turned off. Travis declined, no doubt preferring to have a record of the entire encounter. He ended up in handcuffs for his troubles (no charges were brought against him and he was released later that day).

Travis's arrest by a clearly annoyed cop is just the latest example of ticked-off police officers using the law as a weapon to block or punish efforts to monitor their conduct. New Hampshire law requires consent for audio recording (apparently you can record video alone without consent) -- even in encounters with government employees working in their official capacity, and even on private property. That law has been used to punish videographers monitoring police conduct in the past: The Concord Monitor refers to two other incidents in which private citizens were arrested for recording police encounters.
Michael Gannon, 40, of Nashua was arrested after his home security camera made video and audio recordings of detectives who had come looking for his teenage son. Felony wiretapping charges against him were later dropped. Gannon was arrested after he brought the recordings to the police station to complain that a detective had been rude to him....

... a case in the Keene area, in which a motorist was charged for turning on a tape recorder after being pulled over by the police, Dumaine said.

Such arrests aren't confined to New Hampshire. Pennsylvanian Brian Kelly briefly faced up to ten years in prison under an old wiretapping law for recording police with a handheld camera before the Cumberland County District Attorney backed off under public pressure. Mary T. Jean faced a similar battle with Massachusetts authorities after posting video of an illegal search on her Website; she finally won her case in federal court.

Such over-the-top use of the arrest power to keep the public in the dark inspired New Hampshire lawmakers to consider legislation that would allow New Hampshire residents to freely videorecord their private property and encounters in public places. The private property bill was killed by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

Arresting people for recording the police is ridiculous and contemptible. Law-enforcement officers, drawing tax-funded paychecks, wearing officially issued uniforms, and wielding vast powers that can be (and have been) misused against the public, should be subject to recording at all times, for the safety of the public. Officers unwilling to have their actions preserved in video and audio form probably ought not be carrying guns and badges. Count me among those who applaud the Cooper Travises of the world -- and who want to see their actions legal and common everywhere.

Original report here

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Australia: No justice in Victoria's courts

I'm guessing that the attackers were blacks or Muslims. That would be consistent with past practice. See here

A bashed girl and two boys who almost died from stab wounds are disgusted by the slap on the wrist given to their attackers. The three friends suffered horrifying injuries when gatecrashers attacked the occupants of a home in Clyde, near Cranbourne, in August last year.

The armed gang retaliated with violence when asked to leave. They left three people requiring hospital treatment and damaged two vehicles. The court case over the vicious attack saw two of the thugs escape conviction and all three given light sentences on reduced charges.

Jayden Carter, 21, almost died when he was stabbed four times, including twice in the heart. His attacker, then 17, of Narre Warren, received six months' probation. The boy, who cannot be named because of his age, was found guilty of using violence and possessing a drug of dependence (steroids), but avoided jail and a conviction.

Owen Devon was left in a pool of blood with three stab wounds, one in the spleen, one between the ribs and one under an arm. The second attacker, of Narre Warren, pleaded guilty to "aiding and abetting the stabbing" of Mr Devon and hitting Victoria Fuller in the face with a baseball bat. He also smashed two car windscreens with the bat. He avoided jail and will do 50 hours of unpaid community work over a year. The third attacker, 16 at the time, also escaped conviction and received a $1000 fine for violence.

Mr Carter, who was having a party with 20 guests, flatlined twice on the night of the stabbing and doctors believed he would not survive. He was taken to Casey Medical Centre and then flown to the Alfred hospital. "I was lying in hospital and the doctors were working on Owen next to me and he was yelling, 'Look after Jayden'. And I remember them saying, 'I don't think your friend is going to make it'," he said. "It made me feel dead."

Mr Carter described the justice system as "a joke" for allowing his attacker to walk free. "I can't even go swimming any more because the cold water makes my scars hurt, as if I'm being stabbed all over again," he said.

Ms Fuller is still being treated and has trouble eating since being "smashed" in the face. She said Premier John Brumby should stop talking tough and actually punish violent offenders. "The police did everything they could do to get a sentence and yet the guys I watched stabbing my friends are free to live their lives," she said.

Victims of crime advocate Domenic Greco said victims didn't have a voice in the Australian court system.

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Lawsuit abuse

In the spring of 2003, two Canada geese landed in the planter outside of Contemporary Watercrafters, a small pool maintenance business in Maryland owned by Howard Weiss. After several weeks, Howard and his business manager, Kelly Reed, contacted the Humane Society about having the geese relocated because they were pooping in front of the store.

Because the geese were protected under the Migratory Species Act, Howard and Kelly were informed that it would have been illegal to disturb the geese. So they put up tape around the planter, posted signs, and waited for the geese to hatch their goslings and move on.

Unbeknownst to Howard and Kelly, the male goose had flapped his wings, honked, and snapped at a woman walking to the fabric store next door to Watercrafters. Startled, she fell on the sidewalk.

Two years later, Howard and Kelly were served with papers announcing that the woman was suing Watercrafters for $750,000, alleging that the goose was Watercrafters' responsibility. "We really didn't have anything to do with the goose other than it was in front of our store," said Howard.

After extensive preparations, Watercrafters was forced to go to trial. Fortunately, the jury determined that Watercrafters had not been negligent. "It's possible that, if this lawsuit had come away with a large verdict, it could have caused us to close our doors."

Howard says that the costs of lawsuit abuse to small businesses are not just financial. They include "the time taken away from your business – the way you run your business. You start to second guess how you do business because you're worried about the next lawsuit, and that's not the way to run a company."

Original report here

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

A muzzled jury in Britain

The verdict should be appealed on the grounds of an improper direction from the coroner

The family of a Brazilian mistakenly killed by anti-terror police in London condemned an inquest into his death as a "whitewash" after jurors returned an inconclusive "open" verdict. Jurors at the inquest into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005 had been barred from returning a verdict of unlawful killing by the coroner, who gave them only the options of lawful killing or an open verdict.

The jury did challenge police claims over the killing, in particular rejecting the suggestion Mr de Menezes had moved towards a police marksman moments before he was shot.

Mr De Menezes was shot seven times in the head at a London Underground train station on July 22, 2005, the day after a failed attempt to replicate the attacks of July 7, when four suicide bombers killed 52 people. Police had followed the 27-year-old electrician onto a train in the mistaken belief he was failed suicide bomber Hussain Osman, who lived in Mr De Menezes's block of flats.

The family, who walked out of the inquest in protest last week when coroner Michael Wright barred the jury from giving an unlawful killing verdict, voiced outrage at the outcome. "After three months of evidence, 100 witnesses and millions of pounds, the coroner, Sir Michael Wright, has presided over a complete whitewash," the family said in a statement. "He has failed on every count of the purpose of an inquest investigation."

The jurors challenged police claims about the killing in answering a series of questions put to them by the coroner. Specifically they rejected a firearms officer's claim that he shouted "armed police" before opening fire at de Menezes, and said the Brazilian did not move towards one of the officers before he was pinned to his seat and killed.

London's Metropolitan Police was heavily criticised in a report in August last year on the killing, although then police chief Ian Blair escaped censure.

Over the course of the inquest, jurors heard more than seven weeks of evidence from about 100 witnesses, including the two officers who shot Mr De Menezes at Stockwell station.

Original report here

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Australia: Non-driving drunk finally gets justice

A Benleigh man found guilty of drink-driving after trying to help his sister start a broken-down car had his conviction quashed on appeal. In a bizarre case, both a magistrate and a District Court judge had held David Brian Egglemosse intended to use a vehicle parked in a vacant lot alongside the Pacific Motorway at Loganholme, south of Brisbane, in September 2005.

However, a new ground was raised in the Court of Appeal which showed Egglemosse had a defence under a section of the Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act, that was not argued before either original hearings.

A summary trial in the Magistrate's Court heard Egglemosse's sister Norma got a lift home as a passenger in the car which stopped and rolled into a vacant lot. Believing the car had run out of petrol, she rang her brother David, a mechanic, but when she returned the driver of the vehicle had left.

Meanwhile, David Egglemosse walked a short distance to the vehicle, put fuel into the car and worked on the disconnected battery. He then went to the driver's side to lean in to it to see if it would start. He found there were no keys in the ignition and returned to the front of the car where the bonnet was still up.

Police arrived and breathalysed Egglemosse, who returned a blood-alcohol reading of 0.15 per cent. Egglemosse pleaded not guilty on the basis he had not intended to drive the car and did not even have a key to it. However, the magistrate convicted him, fined him $720 and disqualified him from driving for nine months. Egglemosse appealed to a District Court judge who threw out the appeal and ordered he pay $900 in court costs.

He then went to the Court of Appeal yesterday and in a unanimous judgment his appeal was granted. The Court of Appeal set aside the conviction, fine and disqualification imposed in the Magistrate's Court and also set aside the order that he pay $900 in District Court costs. A verdict of not guilty was substituted for the Magistrate's Court verdict.

Court of Appeal president Margaret McMurdo said Egglemosse had established on oath that he had no intention to drive the vehicle and the car was not a traffic hazard.

Original report here

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

DNA evidence in Australian murder trial left in the lab for years

The John Tonge Centre is up there with the worst of the American DNA labs

A DNA sample that ultimately helped police link one of two men accused in the double murder of a Gold Coast couple sat untouched in Brisbane's John Tonge Centre for two and a half years before the mistake was realised, a court heard today. The mishap was revealed during the first day of a committal hearing in the Brisbane Magistrates Court for Allan Richard Carnell, a mechanic from Tumbulgum, and Andrew William O'Grady, a labourer from Murwillumbah. Carnell, 44, and O'Grady, 40, are each charged with two counts of murder over the deaths of Springbrook couple Anne-Maree Kropp and Christopher Leigh Nancarrow.

The couple was found in their Springbrook Road, Springbrook home on February 1, 1999. Friends discovered the pair naked with multiple stab wounds.

Investigators have alleged the couple were murdered on or about January 30 that year after a violent struggle with their alleged assailants. Brisbane Homicide Investigation Unit Detective Sergeant Dave Nicoll told the court yesterday Carnell had consented to a DNA test in October 2003 but it somehow "slipped through the processes" at the John Tong Centre - home of Forensic and Scientific Services - and was never analysed. The mistake was only realised after a review of the murders was launched and a request to test another man's DNA was submitted in April 2006. The DNA evidence allegedly linked Carnell to the scene.

Carnell's solicitor Terry O'Gorman, who cross-examined Det Sgt Nicoll for most of the day, said besides the DNA, there was no evidence to link his client to the couple's home. He said a friend of Carnell's was working with the couple to do up their Holden Gemini as a show car and asked Carnell to do some mechanical work on the vehicle, but that was the only link to his client.

Married father of four, Carnell was charged in October 2007 and O'Grady was charged in February this year. O'Grady is believed to be a member of the northern NSW Nomads Motorcycle Club. They are both free on bail.

Kropp and Nancarrow, who grew up in Maitland in the NSW Hunter Valley, previously lived in Murwillumbah before moving to the Gold Coast in late 1998. The couple often returned to Murwillumbah to visit friends and a doorknock of the region in June 2007 uncovered new information, including a description of a man seen in their carport at the time of their murders.

Original report here

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Montana Judge clears Yellowstone County in wrongful-conviction lawsuit

A multimillion-dollar lawsuit filed against Yellowstone County by a former Billings resident who spent more than 15 years in prison for a crime he did not commit was dismissed today by U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull. The Billings judge ruled that the state, not the county, was responsible for providing a competent defense for Jimmy Bromgard at his 1987 rape trial. The state has already settled with Bromgard for $3.5 million, the largest amount the state has ever paid to settle a civil rights case.

In an 11-page order, Cebull concluded that state district judges, not the county, controlled court-appointed counsel in Bromgard's case. "The judiciary selected the attorneys, set their salaries, supervised their work and removed court-appointed attorneys when necessary," Cebull wrote.

His order said Bromgard was incorrect in arguing that the state had delegated to the county the responsibility of implementing U.S. Supreme Court requirements that indigent defendants be provided an attorney.

Bromgard, 39, now lives in Kalispell. He was convicted of raping an 8-year-old girl in her bedroom, largely based on hair evidence analyzed by former state crime lab director Arnold Melnikoff. But DNA testing not available at the time of his conviction cleared Bromgard of the crime in 2002, and Melnikoff's work has since been discredited.

Bromgard sued for $16.5 million in damages, naming the state and county as defendants. In his case against the county, Bromgard maintained that the county failed to properly hire and supervise lawyers appointed to represent indigent defendants. Bromgard was represented by the late John Adams, who failed to file an appeal, gave no opening statement and called few witnesses.

Dan Schwartz, chief deputy county attorney, said a statement from the Yellowstone County Attorney's office would be issued this afternoon.

Original report here

More background (from 2007):

Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath is getting knocked around for statements he made recently in the high-profile case of Jimmy Ray Bromgard, who was released from prison in 2002 after DNA tests exonerated him in a Billings rape case. Last last month, the Chicago Tribune ran a withering article in which forensic and legal experts castigated McGrath for suggesting, under oath, that Bromgard may not be innocent despite the DNA evidence. The statements were made during a deposition of McGrath last fall by lawyers for Bromgard, who is suing the state and Yellowstone County for damages because Bromgard was wrongly imprisoned for 15 years.

Yet while the news coverage focused on McGrath's statements about the case, much more of the deposition focuses on something else: whether the state, under McGrath's direction, adequately investigated the questionable work of former state crime lab analyst Arnold Melnikoff. It was Melnikoff's testimony on hair comparisons that helped convict Bromgard in 1987 - testimony later described by a panel of national forensic experts as "completely contrary to generally accepted scientific principles."

Melnikoff left Montana's crime lab in 1989 and went to work for the Washington State Patrol's crime lab. In the wake of revelations about the Bromgard case in 2002, Washington state officials audited Melnikoff's work there and found errors in 30 of the 100 cases they examined. Washington fired Melnikoff in 2004, citing his "incompetent and inaccurate" testimony in yet another Montana rape case in 1990, involving hair and blood analysis that helped lead to the conviction of Paul Kordonowy. Kordonowy was exonerated of that crime by DNA evidence in 2003, although he remains in prison on a separate rape conviction.

Melnikoff also did hair analysis in yet another Montana criminal case since called into question: the murder conviction of Barry Beach, who says he's innocent in the 1979 killing of Kim Nees at Poplar. Beach's request for clemency was heard last week before the state Board of Pardons and Parole. Melnikoff identified a pubic hair found on the victim's sweater as belonging to Beach. Melnikoff's analysis was never admitted as evidence at Beach's trial, but it was mentioned at trial by the prosecutor, Marc Racicot, who was later elected attorney general and governor.

After the Bromgard exoneration in 2002, McGrath oversaw an investigation of Melnikoff's Montana crime lab work from the 1980s and late 1970s. The state crime lab is part of the state Justice Department, which McGrath leads as attorney general. Attorneys for Bromgard, including Peter Neufeld, co-director of the New York-based Innocence Project, have criticized McGrath for conducting what they see as an inadequate, limited investigation.

In the Sept. 29 deposition, McGrath, under questioning by Neufeld, attempted to explain why he declined to hire independent, outside specialists to direct the investigation and why his office scrutinized only Melnikoff's hair analysis cases and not other work. The investigation also did not examine potential effects of Melnikoff's training of other crime lab workers, did not scrutinize cases where defendants had pleaded guilty, didn't re-examine the hair samples analyzed by Melnikoff, and didn't try to find the "root cause" enabling Melnikoff to repeatedly provide testimony and analyses later found to be seriously flawed.

"What was your reason for rejecting the recommendation of the peer review committee (of national forensic experts) with respect to bringing in outside experts?" Neufeld asked McGrath at one point. "I didn't think that any purpose would be served," said McGrath, who is now running for chief justice of the Montana Supreme Court. "It's also a very expensive process." "Did you make any inquiry as to what the cost would be of bringing in one or more experts to be brought in?" Neufeld asked. "No," McGrath replied.

"But nevertheless, without doing any research, and getting any numbers, or asking any experts what they would charge, you concluded it would be too expensive; is that a fair statement?" "That was one of the factors that I considered," said McGrath.

As McGrath went on to explain, his office focused on whether Melnikoff's hair analysis may have led to wrongly convicting someone. The office, with the help of crime lab personnel, identified about 250 criminal cases where Melnikoff had "generated a report." The review then zeroed in on some two dozen cases in which the defendant was in prison and Melnikoff's hair report had a "positive association" linking the defendant to the victim of the crime - just as he had done with Bromgard, erroneously. Melnikoff also testified in some of these cases. McGrath said he did not scrutinize 13 of these cases where the suspect pleaded guilty.

Ultimately, McGrath, with the help of investigators and staff in his office, determined that Melnikoff's testimony was not the deciding factor in the 12 cases where someone was convicted and sent to prison. "None of the individuals listed in the attached report were wrongly convicted based on the work or testimony of Arnold Melnikoff," he said in a January 2004 memo on the review.

McGrath rejected a request by Neufeld and the Innocence Project to audit all of Melnikoff's work with an independent "oversight committee" and outside forensic experts - regardless of whether the case involved hair analysis or whether the suspect had pleaded guilty or was in prison. The Innocence Project later asked the Montana Supreme Court to order an independent, more sweeping investigation, but the court declined in 2004, saying it didn't have authority to do so.

The Innocence Project notified Washington state in 2002 of Melnikoff's errors in Montana and urged a review of his work. The Washington State Patrol responded by auditing 100 of 1,300 cases on which Melnikoff had worked from 1998 to 2002. Like Montana, it did an internal review, without calling in outside experts.

However, unlike Montana, the Washington State Patrol did not publicize its 2003 audit findings. It took an investigative report by a Seattle newspaper a year later to bring the findings to light. Prosecutors and defense attorneys involved in the cases where Melnikoff's work was questioned had not been informed of the findings.

Original report here

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